CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK
Trio Libero is saxophonist Andy Sheppard’s latest band, with Michel Benita on double bass and Seb Rochford on drums – or perhaps Sebastian is more appropriate in this context.
The band began this concert as they begin their CD (ECM 278 6630), with Libertino. It has a little Latin-tinged fragment of a folky tune and, like other Sheppard-written Trio Libero tunes, it has not so much an underpinning beat as an underlying mood.
Sheppard, on tenor and soprano, and Benita share melodies and solos, often interlinking, sometimes briefly in harmony, while Rochford’s role is for the main part not a timekeeping one but as a colourist, adding the gentlest brush stroke here, a delicate stick knock on the side of a cymbal there.
Benita and Rochford contribute a tune or two, and others, like Spacewalk, are more semi-free improvised mood pieces.
Spacewalk actually begins with a what sounds like a phrase from Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way, but more recent Saturday evening televisual experiences bring different references in my mind as it develops: it’s cool, slightly ominous and could easily be the soundtrack to an establishing scene from The Bridge or The Killing.
Rochford’s Lots Of Stairs is a new reminder of what a clever composer the drummer is, able to gain quite an effect from a relatively simple construction. But then the Benita/Rochford piece Skin/Kaa is just a bit dull.
Of course Sheppard can write good tunes, though they do tend to be fragments – take Land Of Nod, which has something of that martial feel but in a good sense, like one of Charlie Haden’s Liberation tunes in support of the Sandinistas, perhaps – but at other times his pieces and therefore his playing become just simple with insufficient redeeming features. It is not enough to play a few notes with great seriousness, and a lovely variety of tone and intonation if the notes themselves don’t create that magic in the ears of the listener.
And the band can sometimes be a little too cool.
It’s such a fine line. They bring such a delicate depth of feeling to Elvis Costello’s I Want To Vanish, but then completely misfire on the encore of I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, which ended up being the musical equivalent of one of those aphorisms of Chancey Gardiner, the Peter Sellers character in the film Being There: a trite saying given supposed depth because it is uttered with great solemnity.
Then again, they are just plain lovely on Whereveryougoigotoo.
And that is how jazz should be, if the right risks are being taken: Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Most of the time during last night’s Jazzlines concert Trio Libero made it work.